Monday, June 30, 2008

Frugal resources

I'm back at it again- working hard at spending less while trying to get my freezer and pantry up to speed. I pretty much emptied everything out when we left for vacation and am now feeling the effects of not having the stock of grocery store loss leaders on hand to plan with. It's becoming more of a challenge now that the price of about everything has gone up. But, my hats off to those who live in Florida and other areas of the country where prices are higher. Milk at $4.oo a gallon was an eye opener for me!

Today I spent about three hours of planning and shopping for my trip to four different stores: Kroger, Meijer, WalMart and Target. Where I live these stores are all within four miles of my home, thankfully. How could I possible compare and shop these stores for the best deals? Well, let me introduce you to a blog that it making my life much easier- BeCentsAble. At this site there is a great feature called Grocery Gathering. Each week they list just about every store and deals/coupons/links to make shopping very easy.

Along these lines, I've discovered Meijer Mealbox. Here if you click on the "specials" tab you will be led to Meijer coupons that can be printed to your heart's content. These can result in great savings.

For example: This week Talapia is BOGO at $5.99. There is a Meijer coupon for $2 off one bag. So 2 bags of Talapia with two coupons costs a mere $2.00. I think we are set for fish for a while:)

I've learned that my Meijer will only take two identical coupons per transaction. I go through the self scan and just break it down into several smaller transactions. No problem.

In the end all of the planning paid off. I spent about $135 of my $400 budget and saved with coupons and sale items $112. I also earned a $5 Target gift card in the process. Well worth the effort, I'd say.

What blogs or sites do you use to help you make the budget stretch at the grocery? I'd love to check them out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reflections

We are back home again in Indiana. My parents have been coming on the weekends to mow and hang out in our house while we've been gone. They've also been busy little beavers inside, too. My dad installed a new kitchen sink fixture which I love and my mom organized my kitchen cabinets. What a great surprise!!

The kids were ecstatic to be home again. As we crossed over the Ohio River and entered Indiana Elizabeth yelled, "Look for dolphins everyone. This is your last chance because we're in Indiana!!"

Though life now must get back to "normal", there are a few things I gleaned from this past month that I will hold onto and cherish. It really was good for me to see my family in a different setting. I learned some things about them that I didn't know or now appreciate more fully.

Sean really is a people person. It suits him that he is a teacher because he gains a lot of energy from being around others. We had new neighbors all of the time at our condo. He was always out in the driveway meeting them and learning about their plans. Then he would come in and write their names down so that he wouldn't forget. Once he was gone for far longer than I anticipated. When I asked him what was up he explained that he was learning all about our neighbor's recent walk with the Lord. Of course, he also thrives in a setting where there is learning to be done. I really liked being a part of that scene and learning together.



Hannah needed this vacation perhaps as much as anyone. She has had a long school year and often has much responsibility being the oldest. But since mom and dad were there full time she got to step down and relax. I'm glad. We had a lot of great talks while walking on the beach and in the late hours of the night. We were able to share our frustrations and expectations about our own relationship and have grown closer. She's growing up.

Hannah also loves museums. She wanted to spend time reading all of the displays and really learning the material. I see a lot of her dad in her.




Lydia's love for nature and animals has expanded because of our time. She was the first one up every morning (this is no surprise) and couldn't wait to get outside. On every trail she was up ahead discovering and exploring the next thing. One of the highlights of the trip for her was getting "stranded" on an island with Sean and the kayak during a storm.

Her world is growing bigger and bigger.




Miriam spent a lot of her vacation reading at her leisure. She has become quite the bookworm and enjoyed the Cape Canaveral Public Library quite a bit. Since we were unable to check out anything, she would leave a small bookmark and pick up where she left off.

Miriam has always loved games/sports and being challenged. She found shuffleboarding to be an enjoyable sport and even outwitted the family and won a game of Blokus. But at the beach she was always in the water catching the next big wave.






I guess I never realized what a homebody Elizabeth was until this trip. She would easily get teary and sentimental at the mere mention of home. When Grandma and Grandpa came she cried and when they left the poor girl wailed. Sweet, tender Betsy.

She had her seventh birthday in Florida and I'm amazed at the changes since last summer. She is no longer afraid of the water and jumps right in. Several times I heard her having talks with the little ones and encouraging them. "When I was small, I was afraid, but now I trust in God and I'm not..."
Daddy made Princess Betsy her very own sand castle for her birthday.



Joseph thrived at Kennedy Space Center. For a five year old boy, he sure can sit and listen well. He really just took it all in every day. Even when he was tired and I'd encourage him to rest he would say, "But mom I don't want to miss anything." At night we would find him up in his room making sketches and inventions in his space suit. Oftentimes, he would fall asleep with it on.


So excited about the new Legos he picked out at Lego World.


Rebekah has proven herself to be the independent spirit that we've known all along. That girl will not be left behind. She is determined to keep up with the big kids. Her favorite phrase now is "Mommy, I old enough." She played in the ocean and rode the rides without batting an eye. Also, she has learned to identify quite a few animals like bald eagle, alligator, manatee, armadillo, dolphin, lizard.... Even though she is talking most of the time, I guess something is getting in there. Her other favorite phrase has become, "I love space." That makes her daddy smile.

Becca insisted on pushing the next group out in the kayak.


She still needs her mommy's lap when she's tired:)


John is all boy, so the beach was his favorite place. When we would get on our suits, he was at the door trying to get out. He would run all the way down the sidewalk, over the bridge and the sand throwing would begin. He would stand at the edge of the sea and throw wet sand all day if he could. John also loved laying on his belly and letting the waves roll over him. Most kids would cry, but not him. He's learned a few new words during our trip. He can count down from five and making a rocket shooting sound and he answers "Polo" correctly when playing Marco Polo.



Feeding Fish

What did I learn about me? For starters, I really enjoy my family and want to play with them more than I have been. Also, I love being in God's creation. I always have and years of motherhood have not taken that out of me. I thought that passion had left me, but it has not. I'd rather walk through the woods in 95 degree heat with a baby on my hip than not at all. Along the way, I hope to pass this same love onto my children.

Hiking at Cape Canaveral National Seashore

Our Jr. Rangers

I must be extra tasty to sand fleas and the like. I counted 28 total. Ugh.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wrapping it up

Well, I'm far behind on posting all the events of the past week. I've been enjoying myself far too much to sit down at the computer and write it all out. Tonight is our last night here in our Florida home.

The children are ready to be back in Indiana. They have been crying (literally) for their friends and for familiar places. Tonight one of them asked, "Would it be impossible to get home in one day? We should try." It's not technically impossible, but probably a bit unwise. I don't think John and Rebekah would appreciate 19 hours in a car seat in that amount of time.

I am so grateful to the Lord for providing this time for our family. We have never been away on vacation with the sole intent of relaxing and being refreshed. It's been good to be together.
There has always been an infant or a pregnant mommy in the mix up until this point. Of course, this restricted much of our activity. But now, though our children are still young, we are able to move about more freely and expand our horizons a bit. It has been such a blessing to grow closer and to have the time to take in all there there is to learn and see here on the Space Coast.

In some ways I'm sad to see it end. I've gotten used to a slower paced and lower commitment life. Not being surrounded by all of the "stuff" that nine people have sure does free up time for the house keeper:) I've loved taking walks on the beach in the morning and evening and just getting to be outdoors so much more. At home, I tend to be inside working most of the time.

I've treasured moments alone with each of the children individually- talking, laughing, reading, sharing, crying, playing.... I didn't know it, but I needed to reconnect with them. I love them.

And what a wonderful time it has been to have Sean 24/7- from the school year busyness of May to an uninterrupted schedule to focus on each other. I grow from just being around him. I grow in my knowledge of this world. I grow in my focus on the Lord. I grow in my love for others. Sean renews me.

Day at Disney

We told the kids from day one that we were not going to Disney while we were here in Florida. Some of us went to Disney two years ago and had a great time. But we did not foresee this as even possible for another six years or so.

Well, Sean will be leading a Calculus teacher's seminar in a few weeks and one of the participants is a teacher in Orlando. She contacted us last week inviting us to "walk in" with her to work on the weekend. She is able to get three people in free with her work pass.

Her willingness to do this allowed us to spend last Saturday in Disney World. We kept it a secret from the youngest five. We went out to a buffet breakfast in Orlando, put on some music and just started driving. When we pulled up to Disney the reaction was this-

This is before:

video

This is after:

video


We had the best time!! I loved seeing the kid's reactions and expressions of pleasure. Most of the rides we could do as a family. It could not have been any better.



Thursday, June 19, 2008

Confession

Well, what can I say? Though I promised myself (and you) to stick to the $400 a month grocery/household budget, I must admit that I've strayed a bit off track here. Strayed so far that I no longer even know what I have been spending for June. May started off well, but in vacation preparations I kind of spun out of control.

I've struggled in some ways with handling the Lilly Grant money and my own frugal ways. Should I clip and scrimp and save wherever possible? Should I throw it all to the wind because this money was in essence a gift to be spent? It is in fact a nice quandary to have and one that will not likely be mine again.

So, in the spirit of actually being on vacation, I have not been closely watching my spending in this area. I've gone to one store and allowed myself the freedom to buy convenience foods that have served us well. So it is. No regrets.

However, we have made some adjustments in other areas of the budget and been pleasantly surprised by some deals we have come across on some bigger ticket activities (KSC memberships, kyaking, gas rebates....)

So there is a bit of money left for a special surprise for the kids on Saturday. They are going to go over the edge when they figure it out. We're just going to get in the car Saturday morning and go. Can't wait!!

But not to worry. The frugal $400 is back in session for July and the remainder of the year. We've had a chance to work on the budget, read some good material and set some pretty exciting goals financially while we've been here. It's been nice to actually have time to have a conversation about this actually. And God has been opening some exciting doors for Sean while we've been here as well to make some extra income this summer. The Lord continues to bless us in our rest and in our work.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Blown Away

We spent our day yesterday on the water. We weren't at the beach or in the pool. We were in the rivers that surround Kennedy Space Center. As you can see, these large inland waterways are a perfect place for protection and food for many types of wildlife.

Originally we planned on going as a family on a pontoon boat ride into some of these areas. We are always excited to see wildlife in their natural habitats. But for nearly $200 and three hours in the heat of the day, we were looking for some other options.

Last week Sean discovered this local business and rented a paddle board. While he was out he was visited by some manatees. We decided that this would be our best option and rented a kayak for the day switching out the boat's crew now and then. With our cell phones we were able to communicate and meet along the river.
































At one point Sean took Miriam and Elizabeth on a longer trek to a point about two miles away. I drove with the other kids to pick up some food for a picnic lunch. About and hour or so later we met up again on the back property of Kennedy Space Center. It appeared to be a private dock with some areas for recreation and camping.

Miriam and Elizabeth were running around on the shore. And in the small dock area we found Sean surrounded by frolicking manatees. It looked like they were have quite a good time giving his kayak a little bump.

Hannah and I got in for our own close up experience. In these pictures you can see the manatee's snout coming out of the water and then its enormous back. There were likely five to seven of these giants swimming around us, coming up for air and spraying water. I had to keep reminding Hannah that they are vegetarians.


We also saw a school of dolphins, lots of jumping fish, a roseate spoonbill, pelicans and ,of course, sea gulls. Sean and Lydia took the two mile trip back and had some adventures visiting little islands while waiting for the rain to pass.

This day will not soon be forgotten. These are the kinds of adventures that I love- experiencing God's marvelous creation with eyes wide open.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Right Stuff

Space camp was amazing!! I'm around rocket and space stuff quite a bit, but it was extra special for me to get to be hands on and learning along side my family. Very fun. (See Sean's blog for more pics and description.)

Friday we got some personal tours of the museums and a bus tour that took us into some secured areas of the Space Center.

We had a buffet dinner, a presentation about life on the Space Station and then built our own rockets. I've always wanted to do this.

Saturday morning we launched to rockets. Ours got a little caught up in its own parachute string so it came down with a crash. It's all good, though.








Next came lunch with an astronaut. Charlie Walker was the first civilian astronaut, an Indiana native and Purdue graduate. He took some extra time speaking words of encouragement to my girls. "Set your goals now, work hard, apply yourselves and you can achieve anything. You will do anything" It was a precious moment.


Then came the highlight of the training. The Space Shuttle mission. We were on the Discovery team. Sean served as the Public Relations Officer, the voice of NASA. He was located in Mission Control. Lydia and I were mission specialists 3 and 4 located on the lower deck of the Space Shuttle. We did some chemistry experiments while in orbit and were responsible for changing out various canisters of gas. And Hannah had the all-important job of Commander of Discovery. She did a great job getting us off of the ground and landing us safely again.


Our team of twelve read from a script which instructed us on what to say and what operations to perform. In front of us were screens that showed what was going on inside and outside our orbiter. It was pretty impressive and exciting to complete it as a team. I was really impressed with the kids in particular who rose to the challenge and got the job done.

The rest of the afternoon included practicing on some computer simulators landing the shuttle and working with the robotic arm. This was definitely a two person job and required lots of cooperation and concentration. After about four attempts Hannah and I landed safely.

In the 1/6th chair astronauts practice how to move with only with 1/6th of earth's gravity to hold them down. It's a lot harder than it looks.


Then there was this rough and tumble sphere. It was used by the Mercury and Gemini astronauts in training. It is supposed to simulate a space craft out of control and train the astronauts to remain oriented enough to get it back on track. Hannah did not like it so much. She was nauseous much of the day.


Finally, came the graduation. This experience really is one of the highlights of our time here. It is clear that NASA is thinking ahead about who the astronauts and engineers of the future will be. Throughout our visit we heard several mentions that the men and women who live on the moon or explore Mars are now between 5 and 15. Could it be one of my kids?